When I realized Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy weren't real, God didn't stand a chance.
The name of the comedian has long since escaped my memory. It was, after all, nearly 25 years ago when I heard that bit in passing. Yet, the gist of it has never left me. One by one, our first childhood heroes fall away as we discover they are something of a lie and we are left to believe in just the one...the one whose never offered proof of his existence to childish satisfaction.
This post isn't about the existence or nonexistence of god. I respect the various religious beliefs of all my friends and I ask for the same respect for me and mine. So I'm gently asking you now to respect my wish and not turn this into a debate about whose god is the true god or whether or not there even is a god. Thank you in advance.
My family has never been particularly religious. My father's family was Mormon. My mother was raised Episcopal and she would return to her church after her marriage to my father fell apart. I tried both churches on for size growing up (and found church generally, like wool, is largely just kinda itchy and irritating) but church wasn't really something we did much of and we certainly didn't have lengthy family discussions about the bible or Jesus or about spirituality. There was a rather large disconnect then between what Christmas was supposed to be and what I thought it was...presents.
Now, one of the interesting vantages (ad- or dis-, I cannot decide) to being the youngest of four children is that, by the time I came along, my parents were pretty well worn out on making the case for make-believe celebrities like Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny. Truthfully, I have no recollection of the Tooth Fairy at all - although, I'm sure Blind Betsy and Dr. T made it happen for me. As for Santa...well...
I have one particularly strong memory - I was 6, going on 7 - and it was the first Christmas spent in our new house in Casper. My bedroom, shared with Dr. Jenni (long before she would become a doctor), was at the end of the hallway and my bed stood so that I had a clear view of the living room and the tree from where I (was supposed to) lay sleeping. All night, I laid there staring down the darkened hall, shaking, visibly trembling in abject terror of the stranger who would appear in our house and have free rein to wander...and kill little girls he found awake.
When he didn't appear that Christmas Eve night in 1978, I knew then that particular boogie man didn't exist...much to my relief. I don't know why 6-year-old Jane believed Santa would kill her - certainly I can't imagine I'd been led to believe he was a psychopath. I'm not certain I ever had any understanding of who Santa was supposed to be...except a strange man who broke into peoples houses, ate their cookies, and left behind stuff one night a year.
But I was glad when I found out he was one less thing I had to worry about. Yes, even then, I worried much as I do now.
After that, Christmas became what it has become for most people - craziness, too much consumption of food, money fool-hardily spent, and a disgusting display of gluttony with little connection between my actions and the spirit of the holiday.
Until 2003 when it all abruptly stopped. Done. For good. No tinsel. No stockings. No presents. Just...presence.
I don't hate Christmas. But, if you go read that post (no really, it explains an awful lot), you'll understand exactly what Christmas and the Christmas spirit mean to me. You'll understand why I don't exchange gifts, why I no longer decorate or buy into the consumer hype that surrounds it, and why, while everyone around me is rushing around, arguing with people they love, pushing themselves to the extreme of unrealistic expectation, and finding themselves so exhausted they can't truly appreciate the season, I'm hanging out with myself and being quiet.
So...why is this coming up now, compelling me to talk about it? The last few days, my feed reader has been full of posts about, what else? Christmas and, specifically, about Santa and the magic of Santa.
The first post I read, from Momma's Time Out, left me feeling so discouraged for this woman whose child, blasted by external forces, can't seem to grasp the spirit of Christmas.
And then there was My Distant Husband who told us of how each of her children lost a piece of their innocence the day they each realized there was no Santa Claus and I was sad for her and for her children. It was this post that reminded me of my opening quote.
But then? Nini came to my rescue and posted this to Custodian of My Garden. She and I don't see eye to eye on religion but this sentence, "'Jesus' is the center of our celebration, and we have learned love and unity because of it; a major plus to a once feuding family that only knew discord." I respect her so much for following her faith and returning to a true meaning of her holiday that is outside the scope of blatant commercialism (you go, Girl!)...and Santa.
Finally, Laine posted to The Laine List about the magic of Santa - encompassing the question I'd been asking myself for days about Santa Claus, the magic of Santa Claus, the lie of Santa Claus, and the meaning of Christmas.
And, I think, I finally have an answer about how I would have approached the concept of Santa Claus had it been up to me.
I don't know that I would have introduced Santa as a character if I'd had children. I think I might have simply taught my child(ren) that the Christmas season is about love, about giving, about celebration of life....our own lives. Santa Claus isn't a flesh and blood person. He is also certainly not a psychopath (OK, 6-year-old, Jane? Relax. It's cool). Santa Claus, conceptually, is happiness, a giving spirit, a reward for loving behavior. Santa encompasses nice smells, warmth, magic, and generosity. But the abstract concept of Santa as an idea and not as a person isn't understandable to a child.
Rather than have them feel as though I'd lied to them then, I'd rather them start to grasp what's truly important about the season without utilizing a (mis)representation of it that I was going to have to explain away later...a representative that actually seems to induce a covetous heart rather than a generous one. Santa doesn't have to exist - physically or conceptually - for kids to feel the magic, to get it, for them to be grateful, for them to be generous.
I'm not a bah-humbug. I do love Christmas. But not for Santa or for the presents.
I love Christmas. For the presence.
Isn't that what the season is really about?